Over the years I have practiced the Jewish mitzvah (commandment) of hospitality (hakhnasat orchim literally the “bringing in of strangers”) by taking people into my home when they were in transition and needed a place to be warm and safe and dry as they moved through a new life stage. Starting with my first apartment in graduate school I have taken in over a dozen family, friends, or family of friends. Last year I pushed this boundary and took in a woman I knew from the Jewish community who was white collar homeless. She had quit one job and was perusing a new career direction and was caught in the middle. Or so I thought.
Let me be clear that I was not coerced in any way, and that she was just one more in a line of many I had helped. Let me also be clear that I was three months out from the death of my mother and husband and perhaps not making the most thoughtful decisions. Numerous people in the community were aware that I had taken her in, and have told me in retrospect that they wished they had warned me. I might have opened my doors anyway, but I would not have been blindsided. At least I was wise enough to set a one year limit.
She was fine at first, though she did turn the dining room into her office ignoring the office room at her disposal. She took over the family room in the morning, and chastised me if I was too noisy in the kitchen. She was helpful with my dog, though she continually tried to change the daily routine.
And then came the anger. She was angry if I took the trash out without asking for help, and furious when I planted flowers without her. She told me that no one could have a relationship with me because I was so independent. I wrote this off to a case of PTSD from being homeless. But the anger issues continued, as did the judgements.
Finally she quit her part-time job to go to California for several weeks of spiritual growth work and called me asking for gas money to come home. She was shocked when I refused. When I reminded her that her year was up in January and she would have to leave, she went ballistic. In January it took two friends and a truck to actually move her out of the house, with her calling me names the entire time and yelling “I don’t care about your personal boundaries.” Those were the most truthful words she had spoken in a year.
Dr. Elisa Robyn, a modern-day Renaissance educator and leader, is the author of The Way of the Well, a spiritual romance, and Pirate Wisdom, lessons in leadership. Her eclectic career positions include geologist, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Futurist, and Innovative Mojo Coach. Currently, Elisa is an executive director at Regis University. She holds a Masters degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her most current writings can be found at:
And in those words I heard all the voices of my past. The family that had no emotional boundaries. The grandmother whose life mission was to mold me into someone else because no one would ever love me the way I was. The supervisors based career success on my hair and fashion style. The bullies all the way through my school and undergraduate years. She was the manifestation of all those restrictive and limiting judgements. And when I faced her vile anger and embraced my own power, I was free of the regulation demon. So here is a toast to the adventurous, loving, courageous, generous, kind, witty, smart and passionate women I am without explanation. I will never again diminish my light to please others. And maybe this is my entire life purpose, to be the manifestation of wild passion and spirit. This is going to be fun.